By Bill Finley
The next chapter in the scandal that has rocked Thoroughbred racing played out last week when Scott Robinson and Sarah Izhaki both pled guilty to charges relating to the sale and distribution of performance-enhancing drugs used to dope race horses. It was an important development, but the bigger story is this: will it lead to a new and extensive list of indictments against trainers and others who so far have not been charged? That possibility certainly exists.
For now, everything is speculation and the Department of Justice has not said whether or not Izhaki and Robinson are cooperating in the probe, but it's not hard to connect the dots and by doing so you come up with a scenario whereby the two are in fact cooperating with authorities and are ready to name names.
That's the most obvious explanation for why they were given a deal by the Department of Justice. In the original indictments, which were announced in March and included 27 individuals, including high-profile trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, Robinson was charged with three counts of drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy. The maximum sentence for each count is set at five years. A superceding indictment was released last week in which Robinson is now charged with just one count. Izhaki was originally charged with one count of drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy, plus a charge of smuggling, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. In the superceding indictment, the smuggling charge has been dropped.
“It's a very logical assumption that they are cooperating and that's why they have accepted the plea they did,” said former Meadowlands and Monmouth executive Hal Handel, who once served as a deputy attorney general in New Jersey. “It looks like they have thrown themselves on the mercy of the justice department. That seems to be where these two are.”
Izhaki will be sentenced Dec. 2 and Robinson will be sentenced Jan. 15. Should one or the other be hit with something considerably less than five years, that will be another indication that they are cooperating with authorities.
Another story to watch is what happens with Ashley Lebowitz, who was among the 27 indicted in March. She is Izhaki's daughter and that may mean that she, too, will make a deal.
According to owner and attorney Maggi Moss, who once served as the chief prosecutor of Polk County, Iowa, the give-and-take at the federal level often involves plaintiffs who are happy to implicate others if that means a reduced sentence for them.
“In federal court, the bigger names you get, the more names you get, the more reliable the information is, you continue to decrease your sentence,” said Moss.
If there was ever going to be more dominos to fall after the original 27 indictments, it always stood to reason that more charges would come as a result of drug suppliers cooperating with authorities. Much more so than anyone else, they know who was using what.
“Scott Robinson and Sarah Izhaki represent the supply side of a market of greed that continues to endanger racehorses through the sale of performance-enhancing drugs,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said last week in a statement. “Each of these defendants provided the raw materials for fraud and animal abuse through the sale of unregulated and dangerous substances.”
It appears that Robinson is the bigger fish of the two.
“From at least in or about 2011 through at least in or about March 2020, Robinson conspired with others to manufacture, sell, and ship millions of dollars worth of adulterated and misbranded equine drugs…” read the statement from Strauss.
Robinson's business was apparently so lucrative that he has been ordered to pay the government $3,832,318.90 as part of an order of forfeiture/money judgment. A forfeiture is the involuntary relinquishment of money as a legal obligation for the commission of crime.
So far, less is known about Izhaki's business According to the Department of Justice's statement, between February 2018 and November 2019, Izhaki sold and delivered “tens of thousands of dollars of erythropoietin,” which is a blood builder drug. She was bringing the drug in from Mexico, thus the smuggling charge.
“These two people appear to be important defendants,” Moss said. “They were the ones where people were getting the drugs from. They are important links and it would appear to me that they obviously have lists of who they sent drugs to. You wouldn't think they'd be doing what they were doing and only selling their drugs to two or three people. There has to be a list of who bought this.”
That much seems certain as it's hard to imagine that the only clients of Robinson and Izhaki were Servis and Navarro and a handful of other Standardbred and Thoroughbred trainers already indicted. If other trainers were buying from them, there should be a paper trail that amounts to a lot of smoking guns. That's particularly the case with Robinson, who was using a website to sell his drugs to trainers. That would mean a record of the transactions and credit card receipts.
Does that mean they sold their goods to hundreds of trainers, dozens of trainers or just a handful? For now, that is anyone's guess. But their plea deals have raised the possibility that the Servis and Navarro indictments will turn out to be just the beginning in what is already one of the ugliest stories in the sport's history.
“If I were someone who was buying drugs from these guys, I'd be very afraid right now,” said Jeff Gural, the Meadowlands owner who worked behind the scenes with The Jockey Club to build a case against the cheaters. “There's no doubt in my mind that these two (Robinson and Izhaki) are talking.”
Starship Jubilee Does It Again
Starship Jubilee (Indy Wind) continues to be one of racing's best stories. Claimed for just $16,000 (off of Jorge Navarro) in 2017, she picked up the biggest purse of her life when beating the boys Saturday's GI Woodbine Mile S. It was her 12th stakes win, her 19th overall win and pushed her career earnings over $2 million.
Trainer Kevin Attard now faces a tough decision concerning where she should run in the Breeders' Cup, with the choices being the GI Breeders' Cup Mile or the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. The Woodbine Mile was a “Win and You're In” race for the Mile. That means Starship Jubilee is guaranteed a spot in that race and the $60,000 entry fee will be waived. Though it's hard to imagine any scenario where she wouldn't get into the Filly & Mare Turf, she is not guaranteed a spot, but the entry fee would also be waived for that race.
“Which race we go in is up in the air,” Attard said. “Obviously, we are excited because she ran a big race Saturday. She came out of the race in great shape. We'll see how things transpire over the next little bit and try to decipher how the two races shape up and decide what direction we will go in.”
Starship Jubilee is the best horse based in Canada and was the 2019 Canadian Horse of the Year. This year, she won't be eligible for that title. The Woodbine Mile was her first race this year in Canada and for a horse to be eligible for the Canadian Horse of the Year title, they must run at least three times north of the border.